Our 2017 festival proved to be a very successful with 86 events, over 300 speakers & performers in 35 venues across the city during 20-26 March 2017.
We are very appreciative of the funding provided by the Building Change Trust, Ulster University, The Open University Northern Ireland, Queen’s University Belfast, Community Relations Council and Belfast City Council.
A record 4,580 audience members attended the wide-ranging programme which attracted very positive media and audience feedback. We measured and recorded this feedback through an audience survey involving a 10% sample. This found that 95% of respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations.
It was particularly pleasing to find that 58% were attending a festival event for the first time and 37% of the sample had never been to a festival venue before which suggests that we were able to reach new audiences and introduce them to new venues and partners. We are also delighted with the quality of the performances in our programme, confirmed by audience feedback and media reviews.
A number of commentators applauded the quality and diversity of our programme and the quirky, innovative range of events we put together. Our unique selling point, as a civic participation festival in Belfast, was recognised in media coverage and our speakers and performers were very appreciative of the platform we were able to provide for them. The vast majority of events (92%) were free with many oversubscribed.
- Total audience: 4,580 (6.5% increase from 2016)
- Number of events: 86 (5% increase on events organised in 2016)
- Number of performers/speakers: 303
- Number of free events: 79 (92% of total events)
- Number of venues: 35 (28 last year)
- Media coverage: 43 major items
Other findings from our survey included:
- 95% of respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations with only 4% reporting dissatisfaction with the event they attended. (Up from 92% in 2016).
- 77% of people answered the question ‘after attending the festival, would you be more likely to attend other politics-related events’ (up from 71% last year) and 21% stated they felt the same way about attending other events of this type (24%). Only 1% were less likely to attend similar events (1% didn’t answer).
- Respondents overwhelmingly found the subject matter of the event/performance as the main reason for attending the festival.
The festival employs a mixture of curated and distributed programming models and does not organise the majority of events, but instead facilitates and supports others to organise activities. However, as part of this year’s programme, we directly organised ten events including talks by Catherine Mayer, Geoff Crossick and Diana Souhani, as well as a comedy event with David McSavage and a music event with Beyond Skin.
We invited the public to suggest and organise events in November 2016 and received over 15 proposals – 13 of which we were able to support. The Festival had a wide variety of events with 69% consisting of hands-on workshops or discussions. We were delighted to have such a high proportion of audience participation events rather than just passive lectures and talks. The organisation this year of two thematic events on ‘Democracy Day’ and ‘Dialogue Day’ together with a poetry competition was also heartening.
It was particularly pleasing to find that 58% of respondents were attending a festival event for the first time and 37% of the sample had never been to a festival venue before. This suggests that we were able to reach new audiences and introduce them to new venues and partners. This feature was confirmed by a number of event organisers.
We were delighted to use a number of new venues this year including Crumlin Road Gaol, the McCracken Centre, Sonic Arts Research Centre, Brewbot, and the Moot Hall at Queen’s University Belfast. As well as the above venues, new partners included Belfast City Council, Beyond Skin, the British Academy, Community Arts Partnership, Foxwall Films, View Digital and the Washington Irish Programme. We were also pleased to have a greater spread of events outside the city centre.
All in all, we believe the festival achieved its objectives of providing a platform for new ideas on politics and culture and most of all entertaining and informing our audiences with a variety of events at a value accessible to all sections of the community.